To be precise. It is the tallest tropical tree (seraya kuning siput in local language) in the world. No kidding, this tree is inside Tawau Hills Park (Taman Bukit Tawau), which is a 28,000 hectares (280 Sq. KM) of protected dipterocarp lowland rainforest gazetted as a park in 1979. Entering this forest, which is 25km northwest of Tawau, is like going into an alien world. The surrounding hundred-feet-tall trees will make you feel so small.
Walking to this tree requires 25 minutes of jungle trekking. Though the dense and big canopy blocks the sunlight, it is still warm and humid under the shade. Due to the rainy season, the wet forest ground became a happy hunting ground for the ground leeches. If you feel something cold and itchy, very likely it is a leech sucking your blood. They look very small, but by the time you feel it, it may have grown 10+ time bigger, becoming a big blood sack hanging on your skin. Its head can penetrate the loose textile of the sock!
Many older trees here have huge buttress base. If you are lost in the jungle, you can hit the buttress with a wood. The loud sound can transmit a long distance through the forest to reach the rescuers, and it is more effective than shouting.
Some trees are so tall that my camera lens can’t capture the whole tree in one frame. The staff told me that the specialty of Tawau Hills park is its variety of wild orchid. Over 150 species of Orchid have been recorded including the huge Elephant Ear Orchid.
Besides big trees, I also found some interesting curly wood that I can’t name. Too bad I am not a botanist. It will be more fun if I can tell what is the name of each plant.
Such big trees were everywhere in Sabah in the past. Today, each big tree is priced like a gold bar. Illegal logging is still common in our forest reserves. If you don’t believe me, just wait at night at Danum Valley, Kawang, Maliau Basin or Crocker Range. You would see lumbering trucks carry stolen wood out of the forest reserves. Well, the VVIPs never worry of being caught, because the enforcement unit is also part of his corruption team (i.e. shareholder).
Observing the trees closely and you would find chameleon, which is able to change color to blend itself perfectly among the wood and leaves.
Iguana is also a common resident in the rainforest. I was told that it would bark like an angry kitty if it sees you far away. Don’t know if it is real. Iguana is traded openly as pet in many countries. Keeping iguana is much more difficult than dog, so most of them die. It is better to leave them in the wild then.
Lucky people would see “Bung Radin” that looks like red leaf monkey on the tree, coz most of the time it is in the Parliament, says something that embarrass Sabahans.
Finally I saw the tallest tree. It is the tallest tropical tree (Dipterocarpus species shorea faguetiana) in the world, with a height of 88.32 Meters (about 290 feet)! However, nobody can tell how old it is. To find out its age, you need to cut down the tree and count the number of concentric rings, each represents one year, in its cross section.
Because canopies of other nearby trees covers its top, I can’t see its end. Climbing to its top may not bring you to the heaven in the sky, but falling off from this tall tree might help. There is another very tall 85.76 Meters Tualang / Menggaris tree (species Koömpassia excelsa) in this park too. Tawau Hills Park is really a treasure of ecology and geology. I will come back again to explore its hot spring, waterfall and volcanic boulders.
Update (9 Jun 2016): Measuring a whopping 89.5 Meters, a Yellow Meranti tree (Shorea faguetiana, nicknamed as the Minecraft Tree) in Maliau Basin “might” take the throne as the tallest tree in tropics.
Photos taken in Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo